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Writing Product Specifications, by Corinne Maddox, CCM, CFM

All construction documents include some type some type of product specifications. On small simple projects, architects often simply list an acceptable a generic product type (such as a 2x2 ceiling tile). In this case, any manufacturer, tile design or acoustical quality level would be allowable. Other specifications may name a specific or "proprietary" product which the contractor is required to use. This generally results in a higher cost. Adding the statement "or equal" with a proprietary specification allows the contractor to shop for the best price and delivery schedule, but will require careful review to verify it is in fact an "equal" product. Performance specifications list the desired results (such as the acoustical rating of the ceiling tile). The larger the project, the more detailed the specification should be. Major projects include lengthy specifications which typically include several approved manufacturers and product lines, detailed product descriptions and performance criteria, a requirement to comply with a recognized industry standard (such as ASTM's ceiling suspension system standard), a list of required submittals (such as samples and shop drawings), manufacturer and installer qualifications, material handling requirements, installation conditions, warranties and fabrication and installation criteria. The architect usually develops this type specification by editing a software "master document". Since larger projects often cover multiple products in a single specification, the documents need to be carefully reviewed to make sure it is clear which product in intended for each location. Specifications should also be reviewed to assure the appropriate quality is specified - an error in the acoustical rating of ceiling tile or failure to select a rating of many options, for instance, could result in hundreds of thousands of dollars of extra costs on a large project.

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